Adam Wainwright acknowledges that he and a handful of his St. Louis Cardinals teammates are seeing Father Time sneak up on them.
But giving into it? Not a chance.
“I still feel pretty young,” said Wainwright, 34, one of the Cardinals’ older players along with left fielder Matt Holliday, 36, injured catcher Yadier Molina, 34, shortstop Jhonny Peralta, 33, first baseman-outfielder Brandon Moss, 32. “Body-wise, I feel better than I did a few years ago. I’m not looking at the end yet.
“People used to play until they were 40 all the time – maybe not all the time, but sometimes. It’s more rare nowadays. But I’m not looking to be retiring in the next year or two.”
Former Cardinals right fielder Jason Heyward stirred the pot about the Cardinals’ age when he signed a free-agent deal with the Chicago Cubs in December.
Heyward explained that the Cubs’ youthful core of National League Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber was younger than that of the Cardinals.
Others, however, point to a core of 25-and-under talent on the Cardinals like Carlos Martinez, Kolten Wong, Trevor Rosenthal, Michael Wacha, Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty and see plenty of good times ahead.
“I think there’s a little misconception about the fact the Cubs are so young and we’re not as young,” Cardinals Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said. “We’ve got a lot of pretty talented young players. We’ve got two starters, Wacha and Martinez, that are elite talents and young. We’ve got Kolten Wong, a first-rounder, who’s young. We’ve got Grichuk and Piscotty all figuring to be starters and they’re young.
“Granted, we’ve got great veterans with Holliday, Molina and Waino. Waino’s got some good years left; they all do. But we’ll continue to draft and develop, we’ll be active internationally and it’s our job to backfill as this current crop of players ages.”
Wainwright is a two-time 20-game winner who missed the majority of last season with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. He feels he has plenty more to offer despite being in his middle-30s.
“Nobody likes being called old, right?” Wainwright said. “But I think (critics are) right, for the most part. We are aging. We’re just becoming more wise. We’re learning our bodies better and learning how to do things better.
“Somebody has to get old. And if we’re still playing and older, it means we still have some ability. I think the more and more people talk about that, the more we laugh because we just know Matt Holliday is still going to hit well. We know that Yadier is still going to catch well. And hopefully we know I’m going to pitch well.”
Second baseman Wong said people can count on Wainwright being on top of his game.
“I’m seeing things peple are saying about Adam getting old,” Wong said. “I’m like, ‘Dude, you don’t realize how hard this guy works.’ After he got hurt, he was in the training room from 10 o’clock until game time, just trying to get back. You guys saw how much he wanted to get back. He got back toward the end of the season when everyone basically counted him out.
“So I’m excited for this year for him, to have our captain out there and our Opening Day starter.”
Wacha said the veterans give the Cardinals good balance.
“Those guys are very important to have on a club,” he said. “Those are guys you can go to and ask about anything. They’ve been around the game for many years and have seen quite a bit. I think we have a perfect mixture of the right amount of veterans along with that young crop that has just electric-type stuff.
“Having Waino and Holliday and Yadi, Peralta, those guys who you can talk to about everything, I think it’s very important.”
Wainwright said missing so much time last season has done wonders for his arm, which is more refreshed than it’s been in years.
“You hate to say missing time helped you because you want to be out there helping the team,” Wainwright said. “But honestly, my arm greatly benefited last year from having that time to rest. I came back as fast as I could from Tommy John (surgery), and I pitched a couple of seasons. I came back as fast as I could from my little elbow cleanup on the backside where they took some cartilage shavings out of there.
“I had a chance to just let everything heal last year. When I went into the postseason, although I had a banged-up Achilles’ a little bit, the rest of my body felt amazing. Body-wise, I couldn’t feel better than I do right now.”
Wainwright understands why the Cubs are the favorites in the NL Central, but he doesn’t envision the Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates vying for the top spot.
“The Cubs beat us in the postseason last year, so they earned that right,” Wainwright said. “It’s not something where we go home and we write on the wall and look at it every day as motivation. But we certainly relish the opportunity to go out every day and prove everybody wrong.
“We have some great talent in our organization. We have some great talent in our division to compete with us. It’s going to be a battle all year long. I don’t think anybody out there is writing that we’re going to get blown away by the Cubs or the Pirates or anybody else. So I think it’s dangerous to just look at the Cubs.”